What’s Really Ailing Social Media

Everyone on social media is infected with the same problem: The very nature of it causes all of us to be fake.

So, while we can share the delectable stack of pancakes we had for breakfast, the highlights of last night’s party, our feet poolside on vacation and of course, our “likes” and laments, all we’re sharing is a simple chronicle. One that with the right filter and snappy status update can project an image of a life far better than the one we authentically experience.

The most widely used social network, Facebook, with over 1.4 billion active daily users, currently doesn’t support deeper interactions that reflect more naturally occurring conversations. And it’s also missing another important component: storytelling.

Narrative is the sinew of life; it gives context and depth to the information we share. It’s also the lifeblood of authentic connections. Without it, it’s impossible to turn data and description into meaning.

Once you can pull narrative into a social media context, others can then truly become a part of your story. Which brings up another current limitation of social platforms that has actually supported our vulnerability to inauthenticity. Choosing “friends” based on the assumption that they’re like-minded is self-limiting, yet social platforms tend to make recommendations based on your set of interests and “likes.” Varied points of view energize the juiciness of storytelling by challenging assumptions, opening up a world of possibilities to move toward a more honest representation of you … and your true story.

The beauty of life lies in its serendipity surprise and resulting creativity. “Coincidences” are part of the elixir of life. So, while social media “stories” are certainly creative endeavors, they are made in hindsight and are linear representations crafted to project an idealized version of a person’s interests and lifestyle. It all seems a bit too tidy and curated.

Neurological experiments reveal that when we truly identify with something or someone, the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex — which is involved with self-definition — is activated. In contrast, when a person feels the attributes of something that piques their interest but doesn’t take it all the way to connection, the brain region known as the putamen lights up. The object remains external.

People crave the satisfaction that comes when our identities are activated and we can gain some elbow room for the self.

For social media sites to get to the heart of their problem with the proliferation of “fake” people and information, they must stop blaming failures of technology.

Instead, they have to truly provide a social space where people can be and become. They have to alter the construct so that those trying to imitate real humans and authentic experiences will be easy to spot — and block.

And to complete the cure, everyone who uses social media must embrace life’s ironies, zigzags, contradictions and incompleteness.

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